In the Cup

To find a bra that fits, we go to the experts

Years of wearing bras that don't provide the proper support, or wearing no bra at all, brings on the dreaded "Cooper's droop," a sagging of the Cooper's ligaments that support the breasts. Ethel's eyes widen when she hears this. "I've seen that bra a million times," Bradshaw informs Ethel of the Victoria's Secret she has worn this night. "It offers no support." Properly chastised, Ethel chooses a Natori from the handfuls of bras Bradshaw brings her from the sale floor. It's a pretty metallic blue, and, thanks to Bradshaw's skills, Ethel goes up a notch to a 34B.

The next night we visit Margaret's, on Maryland Avenue in downtown Clayton, with Lucy. Christy Adams, in an unclinical green blazer and black skirt, greets us. "Margaret was my grandmother," she says. Margaret's was opened in 1953. "Ellen, my mother, has worked here since the late '60s. Grandmother taught her, and Mother taught me." Being the third generation of lingerie retailers, Adams admits, she's never had much of a chance to rebel against the brassiere. However, she confesses that in her more youthful days, in the '70s, "I was wearing camisoles and slips on the outside long before Madonna."

Adams shows some skepticism about the 70 percent-wrong-size figure. "I think that probably comes from the intimate-apparel industry," she says, but she agrees that most women are wearing the wrong size bra: "A lot of women really don't know their sizes.

"Most women really need a bra. They're not doing themselves any favors without one. If you have the right fitting bra, you won't even feel it." Adams says a woman should get fitted once a year, because, as Oprah surely knows, the body changes.

She and Lucy enter the fitting room. Adams takes two measurements -- one around the rib cage, one over the bust -- and concludes that Lucy has a band size of 38. Lucy came in wearing a 36D. "I just learned I bought all the wrong bras," she says. "Where were you when I was 13?"

Cup size is more difficult to determine. For one thing, breasts, like feet, are not perfectly symmetrical. "Everybody has a fuller side," says Adams. "Sometimes it's more pronounced." Adams brings back a handful of bras. "If the cup's wrinkling, it's not fitting right at all," she notes. "Ideally a bra should lie back flat against you." Underwires should not ride too far back or too high, Adams says, and the fabric between the cups, which too often rides up, should be flat against the body.

Adams scoffs at Dillard's rules for language. "Full-figured" slips out of her mouth several times. "I hardly even see why you'd need to say 'nipples,'" she remarks. "If a customer says, 'I don't want to show through,' we get the drift."

After trying on at least 15 bras, Lucy returns to a BodySuede Wacoal, 36C, that she had tried on earlier. "Oh, it is comfortable," she sighs.

It may not be the X-Bra, which we saw at Dillard's -- "your secret weapon" -- with a string to magically change the bust size, or a cleavage-scruncher like you'd find at Victoria's Secret, but it fits, supports. Cooper's droop's averted.

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